Karen Horney was born September 16, 1885, to Clotilde and Berndt Wackels Danielson. She had only one older brother who she was very close to. As a matter of fact, when she was 9 years-old she developed a crush on him. He didn’t share the same feelings and pushed her away. That led to her first bout with depression. A few years later her parents were divorced. Karen’s mom left the two kids with her Dad. Her Dad was a ship’s captain, a religious man, and liked to be the boss. Combine all of those together and you get one bible-throwin’ boss. Karen never felt very close to her father, even though she took him all over the world with him. But because she felt this way she always felt closer to her mother who had called her, “her little lamb”.
In 1906 Karen was accepted to college and met her soon to be husband Oscar Horney, who was a law student. Karen’s acceptance into college was a major accomplishment especially for women in that time. At the college she attended, there were over 2,000 students, only 58 of them being women. Colleges in Germany had only been opened up to women since 1900, so Karen was definitely working against the odds. She later graduated from the University of Berlin in 1913, earning her medical degree. Even with all her school going on, the life away from school was quite a roller coaster. In 1909 she was married, one year later her first of three daughters was born, Briggette. One year after her daughter’s birth, Karen’s mother died. And then in 1913 and 1916 her second and third daughters, Marianne and Renate, were born. She suffers from depression caused by stress and undergoes Freudian analysis. It would have been very difficult to be in her shoes during that time.
Her husband turned out to be just like her father, very authoritative and demanding. In 1923, he lost his business and he became very ill with meningitis, this caused his temper to become very bad and had a very bad influence on their family. At the same time, Karen’s brother who she was so close to passed away at the age of 40 of an infection in his lungs. She became greatly depressed and even suicidal. She packed up and moved her and her kids out of Oscar’s house in 1926. Four years later, she took her family to start a new life in the United States.
Karen’s first American job was as the Associate Director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. She stayed there for 2 years before her family moved to Brooklyn, which was then the intellectual capital of the world. She became friends with many well known psychologists such as Eric Fromm and Harry Sullivan. Also during that time she had the opportunity to develop many of her own theories on neurosis. By 1941, Horney became the Dean of the American Institute for Psychoanalysis. There she was able to teach many of her own ideas which had developed from her dissatisfaction with the Orthodox approach to psychoanalysis. She soon after resigned because of some negativity from other psychologists, but began teaching at the New York Medical College.
Karen’s studies on neurosis are perhaps some of the best we have to date. I found it very interesting to see the viewpoint she placed on it. She believed that neurotics did not suffer from some estranged feeling that no normal person could relate to, but she felt that neurotics felt the same things as most, just that due to situations in their lives they tend to focus more on some of the basic needs than others. She said there were ten patterns of needs that every person would need but clumped them into three groups, the move-toward group, the move-against group, and the move-away group.
In C. George Boree’s article he gives an excellent example on the difference between the neurotic and normal person. He says that it is normal for everyone to want to feel affection for approval. We all want it, but we don’t expect it from everyone, we don’t even expect it from our close family members all the time. So what makes the neurotic different? The neurotic takes it overboard in the sense that he will require it of everyone he meets and feel great anxiety when that need is not met. Whether it be a long time friend, or a brand new acquaintance, the neurotic expects to feel affection from everyone.
The move-toward group was those people who tend to rely greatly on other people’s opinions about them. They tend to believe that love will solve life’s problems and just want someone else to tell them how things should be done. The move-against group was those whom suffered from much of the same situation as the move-toward group, but instead of drawing closer, they push away. They often showed signs of resentment and anger. The last group being the move-away group is those that try to be independent and self sufficient. They don’t allow others to help and often alienate themselves and strive on perfection. Most of the traits seen in these groups are in every one of us, it’s just that the neurotic takes it to the extreme.
Karen places the blame for neurosis on parental indifference. As children our parents have an amazing influence on our lives, whether good or bad, and whether or not we mean for it to be perceived that way is up to the child. If a child feels underappreciated or unloved, it may cause them to lean toward one of the three groups. A child might respond to a confrontation with a parent by getting hostile and trying to show that they have power over the situation. Thus making them fall into the move-against group. Or perhaps the child will feel like they would do anything just to make you love them, making them a part of the move-toward group. Or perhaps, in the face of confrontation a child might respond by withdrawing from the situation and try to avoid it in the future, placing them in the move-away group. I find Karen’s studies to be very accurate even in my own lives experiences.
The last point I’ll cover is Karen’s view on self-actualization. She speaks of a “looking glass” image that the neurotic has. It is something that a normal person does not realize is happening. A neurotic person will often listen to the opinion of others around them, or sometimes draw up their own conclusions on what people think about them and internalize it making a fake interpretation of what they really are in their brain. This is often crippling to the neurotic because of the effect this can have on ones psychological well being. It is everyone’s goal in life to realize who we are and what we are capable of, and with the neurotic that dream can almost never be realized.
From an early age Karen was influenced by psychology just like most of us. The difference is that instead of allowing it to get her down and depressed, she took it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Eventually helping to heal her own life and the lives of many others. Without people like Karen who sacrificed so much for her studies, we would all fall into the same traps without anyone to help us be guided back out. Her studies remain a major influence in society today.
Boeree, C. George Karen Horney: 1885-1952. 1997. Online. 5 Apr 2007.
Horney, Karen. Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-realization. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company, 1950.
Mazzarella, Stephanie Karen Horney (1885 – 1952). 1999. Online. 10 Apr 2007.
O’Connell, Agnes N., and Nancy F. Russo. Women in Psychology – A Bio-Bibliographic Sourcebook. New York City: Greenwood Press, 1990.